On today's date in 1899, a Mr. Alfred Hitchcock entered this world and ended up changing the landscape of cinema. Mr. Hitchcock is the reason you are expected to show up to a movie before it begins. People used to show up whenever they felt like it, but this behavior was not allowed at screenings of Psycho. Absolutely no one was allowed into the theatre after the start of the film and from then on, it became the norm to show up at the scheduled time. As we celebrate what would have been his 115th birthday (imagine what he would have done with the current horror genre?!) let's look at a few of his slightly overlooked films. Sure, everyone has seen Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, North By Northwest and To Catch A Thief, but what about the rest of his impressive catalog of work?
The 39 Steps, one of four movie versions of the novel of the same name, Hitchcock's has won the most acclaim and for good reason. Declared the fourth best "British Film of the 20th Century" by the British Film Institute, this London set thriller is about a man who tries to help a counter-espionage agent prevent The 39 Steps, a spy organization, from stealing top secret information. When another agent turns up murdered, our hero goes on the run with, what else, an attractive woman and tries to save himself and stop the nefarious spy ring.
Starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, The 39 Steps is one of Hitchcock's earlier films and also happens to be one of the few that he filmed in London. With mysterious and beautiful women, an innocent man on the run and a mastermind with "the top joint missing from one of his fingers", this is a classic mystery/adventure story that keeps you on your toes the entire time.
The only film from Mr. Hitchcock to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, Rebecca is the first film that Hitchcock produced under his contract with David O. Selznick. Starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Oliver and based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel, Rebecca is a an engaging story of a widower who brings home his second wife only to have her constantly eclipsed by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca. A beautiful gothic, black and white film, you never see Rebecca but she still manages to be the center of the mystery at the heart of the story. This movie really is a criminally under-seen gem.
Nope, not the film with Meat Loaf and not the Soavi film, this is the first film to be titled Stage Fright and it is a delectable morsel of femme fatale vs. plucky good girl. Set amidst a stage play, a diva (Marlene Dietrich) has been accused, by her lover, of murdering her husband. Jane Wyman plays our good girl who tries to get to the bottom of all of this. Dietrich is in rare form in this movie and every time it seems Wymann could never possibly be any match for her, she proves us wrong. With some spots of humor, this is a mystery that keeps you guessing all the way to the very last moment. Did I mention Marlene Dietrich?
While Strangers On A Train is well known to a lot of movie lovers, there are just as many people who are very familiar with the plot, but don't know about the film. The story of two strangers who meet on a train, this unlikely pair make a deal to murder for one another. Because they are strangers, it seems to be the perfect crime; no one will ever suspect them of their deeds and they will also be purged of the one person who is making their life miserable. Well, this arrangement can only work if both parties are equally on board. Starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker, this plot line has been used innumerable times on every single generic network crime show. Seriously. Name a show and they have a Strangers On A Train episode.
Watching the two characters, a psychopath an a namby pamby tennis player, unravel under their own sinister plans is, at times, nail biting. In fact, the last scene of the film is so full of suspense that I always find myself yelling at the screen. This also movie boasts some of Hitchcock's most celebrated visual moments.
Again, you may be saying to yourself, "I've seen this movie" or perhaps you're thinking, "I've heard of this movie", but have you seen it lately or at all? Starring Ray Milland and the always stunning Grace Kelly, Dial M For Murder is an absolutely stunning and suspenseful crime thriller.
Adapted from a stage play by Frederick Knott, this is the cat and mouse story of a man who is well aware of his wife's infidelity and he intends to make her pay. With her life. A feast for the eyes, this movie has one of the best and most suspenseful scenes with a pair of scissors you will ever have the pleasure of viewing.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab these and any other Hitchcock film you haven't seen and have yourself a truly wonderful film fest.